Consultants cite vents as root of school's problem
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
GIRARD -- The heating and air conditioning system in Girard Intermediate School is believed to be the root of health problems experienced by some pupils and teachers.
Dr. James J. Enyeart, city health commissioner, recommends several steps to the school district in reopening that portion of the building next fall.
"No children or teachers will be allowed entrance to the school until the board of health is satisfied that the conditions in the building are acceptable," the health commissioner wrote.
School officials closed the intermediate school May 1 for the remainder of the school year, sending pupils to other buildings for class. Pupils and teachers had complained of symptoms including rashes, itchy eyes, vomiting and headaches.
Cathy Ross, president of Girard Concerned Parents, said most people's symptoms have gone away, but they persist in a few people.
Those people continue to experience asthma-like symptoms. "They're having extensive testing done to see what the problem is," Ross said.
She also said the parents found out the school's sprinkler system isn't hooked up to a water source. She added an inspector from the state fire marshal's office planned to visit the building this week.
Discussions: About 40 parents gathered Tuesday at the Girard Free Library to review the findings and the health department's recommendations.
Some parents said their children who attend Prospect Elementary School continue to experience health problems.
"With these test results, I'm pulling them out as of today," said Sue Boarts. Her son is in kindergarten, and her daughter is a first-grader at the school.
Prospect was closed for a few days last month when parents there also reported their children's health problems. It was reopened when school and health officials deemed it safe. The elementary and intermediate schools connect, but the connecting section was sealed off when the elementary school reopened.
Boarts and others who attended the meeting believe the problem comes from the cafeteria. Their children are fine until after lunch when their symptoms recur, they said.
The school district hired Clayton Group Services, an Akron-based environmental group, to conduct testing at the school building. Dr. Enyeart's recommendations were based on preliminary studies from the company. A final report isn't expected for a few weeks.
Taking action: The board recommends removal of carpeting and that the school district hire an engineering firm to revamp the heating and air conditioning system.
The school board relaxed its bidding procedures May 17 to get the school reopened for the fall. The board previously decided to replace the carpeting and ventilation ducts. The school board had approved a resolution declaring an "urgent necessity" at the school to speed up any work to be done.
Superintendent Anthony D'Ambrosio said it will take a few weeks for an engineer to study the HVAC system and determine how to address the problem.
In a May 2 preliminary report to the school district, the Akron company said samples from the carpets in some classrooms revealed high levels of fungi.
"These species have been associated with a range of hypersensitivity diseases and are known to produce" toxic substances produced by fungus and mold, Clayton's May 2 report says.
All the samples revealed fungi species that are evidence of past water damage.
"It's stirred up when people walk on it, and the HVAC system is not capable of taking it out," said James Dobson, deputy health commissioner.
When illnesses initially occurred, some parents attributed the problem to formaldehyde, a chemical preservative.
In the May 2 report, Clayton said formaldehyde test results from 15 samples were below the detection limit and the concentration was "very low" in the remaining six samples. The samples were taken from rooms in both the intermediate school and Prospect Elementary, which is under the same roof, but sectioned off from the intermediate portion.
The problem: "Based on sampling conducted to date, Clayton suggests that the primary issue of concern in the intermediate school is the operation of the ventilation system and the elevated carbon dioxide levels that result," said the preliminary report.
The health board requested it be invited to any meetings regarding the school and recommended maintenance procedures for all school buildings be developed or updated to include tagging ventilators to indicate their last date of service.
After the renovations planned are complete, the board of health will request repeat testing of such items as desk tops, floors and walls.